In the United Arab Emirates, foreign nationals constitute over 80 percent of the population. Brought in to construct and serve the towering monuments to wealth that punctuate the skylines of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, this labor force is not given the option of citizenship. Some ride their luck to good fortune. Others suffer different fates. Until now, the humanitarian crisis of the so-called “guest workers” of the Gulf has barely been addressed in fiction. With his stunning, mind-altering debut novel Temporary People, Deepak Unnikrishnan delves into their histories, myths, struggles, and triumphs.
Combining the linguistic invention of Salman Rushdie and the satirical vision of George Saunders, Unnikrishnan presents twenty-eight linked stories that careen from construction workers who shapeshift into luggage and escape a labor camp, to a woman who stitches back together the bodies of those who’ve fallen from buildings in progress, to a man who grows ideal workers designed to live twelve years and then perish—until they don’t, and found a rebel community in the desert. With this polyphony of voices, Unnikrishnan maps a new, unruly global English and gives personhood back to the anonymous workers of the Gulf.
Deepak Unnikrishnan is a writer from Abu Dhabi. His book Temporary People, a work of fiction about Gulf narratives steeped in Malayalee and South Asian lingo, won the inaugural Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing, the Hindu Prize and the Moore Prize. At the 57th Venice Biennale, Deepak’s fiction was featured in the written publication of the National Pavilion of the UAE: Rock, Paper, Scissors: Positions in Play. His work can also be found in Gross Ideas: Tales of Tomorrow’s Architecture, a book project commissioned by the 2019 Oslo Architecture Triennale. His fiction and non-fiction has appeared in Guernica, Drunken Boat, The Guardian,The State Vol IV: Dubai, and Himal Southasian among others and he frequently collaborates with artists and scholars across disciplines. He has been a writer in residence at Sangam House, Ca' Foscari University of Venice, and Brown University, and was a Margaret Bridgman Fellow in Fiction at Bread Loaf. He currently teaches at NYU Abu Dhabi.